A few years ago, I wrote a post ranking all the home games for the entire season. While I wont be writing a similar post this season--due to my upcoming military training--I would imagine this game would rank really low on such a list. Coming off two brutally taxing games against top-shelf opponents, Rick Barnes was comfortable in giving double-digit minutes to all nine of our scholarship players. As a result, no one played over 28 minutes tonight. This led to a lot of wonky lineups in the first half that produced sloppy basketball.
However, while this game wont remain firmly entrenched in anyone's memories, there are several individual storylines that took a step forward tonight. After the jump, I'll comment on the crowd, provide a narrative of the game, and then go into individual player breakdowns.
Erwin Center Crowd: Y'all know what's coming, so I'll keep this short. Coming off seven years of using student tickets, I decided to sit in the mezzanine with some relatives tonight. After leaving West Campus around 6:15, I walked to the Erwin Center, paid $7 for a general admission ticket, and then walked to their section. It was that easy. Despite the simpleness of this process, it was a totally dead crowd that provided zero buzz.
Basically, it costs more to buy a large teriyaki bowl combo from Jack-in-the-Box than it does to attend a UT Basketball game. And, on Saturday for the game against Rice, it costs even less than that. From the UT Website:
Texas men's basketball hosts Rice University for a game you don't want to miss. Fans who bring their ticket stub from the Nov. 25 Texas vs. Texas A&M football game will receive a general admission ticket for $6. Fans can also bring a new unwrapped toy to donate to Orange Santa and receive a general admission ticket for $2.
Game Narrative: As I mentioned above, the first half was a sloppy affair that involved 23 turnovers from the two teams. From the opening tip, Texas was pushing the ball, and the starters jumped out to a quick 10-4 lead at the first TV timeout. However, coming out of this break, Barnes substituted Brown and Lucas for Hamilton and Balbay. Less than a minute later, Barnes substituted Matt Hill for Tristan Thompson. After these starters were pulled, Texas predictably went through some rough patches of offense. Marred by some offensive fouls and missed 3's from each of the guards on the floor (Lucas, Brown, Joseph), the Texas lead was only 12-8 when Balbay, Thompson, and Hamilton came back into the game around the second TV timeout.
After some really ugly basketball--including a string of turnovers by the teams on on 4 straight possessions--Texas finally started to pull away with its best players back on the floor. Knocking down five straight shots, Texas went on a 9-0 run over two minutes to expand its lead to 23-8 at the 7:30 mark. After the lead increased to 25-10, Rick Barnes once again did a mass substitution, putting in Lucas/Brown/Hill for Balbay/Hamilton/Johnson and then later Wangmene for Thompson. And, once again, the team struggled with these lineups on the floor. After SHSU closed to 27-16, Texas used the re-insertions of Balbay and Hamilton to go on a 6-2 run to end the half with a 33-18 lead.
The beginning to the 2nd half was bizarre, as SHSU racked up 4 team fouls in the first 91 seconds of the half and 6 fouls within the first 3:30. Despite the slew of early whistles in the half, Texas played much crisper and efficient basketball. In fact, after having 12 turnovers in the first half, Texas only turned the ball over 3 times in the second half. Additionally, the team shot 57% from the field during the half, which included missing a few gimmes. Using a barrage of jumpers, made free throws (!!!!!), and lay-ups, Texas boosted their lead up to 49-26 in the first 6 minutes and never looked back. The rest of the game was just a further continuation of the beatdown, so let's get into the player observations.
Jordan Hamilton: What a stud. I yelled "I love you, Jordan" from the mezzanine about 10 times tonight, which is about 8 more times than I professed my affection for him during all of last season. He was outstanding. His crazysexycool stat line of 25 points and 9 boards on 9/12 shooting doesnt even give him justice. Jordan scored from all over the court tonight. He knocked down jumpers, posted up, diced through the lane a few times, and knocked down 5 of 6 free throws. I wasnt even too upset when he got too aggressive in trying to take the ball to the hoop in transition.
Bottom line: Jordan scored 25 points in only 27 minutes tonight, and I never really felt like he was trying to force his shot. It's his 5th straight mega-stud performance, yet I dont think we're even close to seeing his best efforts of the season. He's playing hard, he's playing well, and he's my favorite player on the team right now.
J'Covan Brown: The best news about J'Covan's game tonight is that he didnt have any emotional blow-ups. In fact, the one time it looked like he was going to pout or sulk, he was quickly met by Balbay, who made sure he calmed down. Tonight wasn't a breakthrough performance from Brown, and he still had a handful of silly turnovers, but it definitely wasnt a step backwards. I also thought he was pretty active on the defensive end, which was nice.
Gary Johnson: The box score is really misleading over how Gary played tonight. Even though he accumulated his usual 9 points and 9 rebounds, he struggled for most of the game. In fact, before piling up 7 points in the last 4 minutes, Gary looked uncharacteristically out-of-sync. He missed his first 5 shots and started to press a bit. At one instance, he missed a point-blank putback and looked very frustrated with himself. Some have already started pontificating over how Gary is potentially being affected by the new players and offense, and I'd love to see some people tackle this issue in the comments.
Tristan Thompson: Not a strong game from Thompson, but, in his defense, he really didnt get a lot of looks. The SHSU coach credited Antuan Bootle for helping lock up Thompson's post game, but the reality is that Thompson was rarely targeted tonight. He was so uninvolved that I would have guessed that he played the least minutes of any starter. As it turns out, he played more minutes than anyone else on the team. Bizarre.
Cory Joseph: Tonight, we saw some glimpses of Joseph's offensive game. He hit some jumpers in the flow of the offense and actually made all three of his shots from inside the arc. Unfortunately, he still hasn't gotten his outside shot to go down. He missed another pair of 3's tonight, which takes his 3P% down to 15% for the season. He didnt try to do too much tonight, and it actually suited our efforts well. Work in progress.
Dogus Balbay: Dogus played great tonight. He was pushing the tempo, attacking the basket, and being much more active on the court. While he missed his only "real" jumper, he scored six buckets, all of which came from within 2 feet of the basket. He also played his traditional defense and gathered his normal assortment of steals, assists, and rebounds. Even though SHSU sagged off of him, Balbay was able to consistently finish at the rim and never felt like a liability. In fact, perhaps the simplest summation of Balbay' s game came from Balbay himself: "I just ran up the court and tried to get easy baskets."
Matt Hill: Plain and simple, this was Matt Hill's best game of the season. In fact, his performance helped demonstrate exactly why he got so much praise from Barnes during the off-season. In his 14 minutes, he grabbed 6 boards and had 3 blocks. One of his blocks was particularly noteworthy, as it came after one of our other defenders let a Bearkat blow by him. Additionally, and in a contrast to Wangmene, I thought Hill was also very comfortable within his limited role in the offensive sets. I know it's a broken record, but, with our severe lack of depth, Hill and/or Wangmene must be able to give quality minutes off the bench for Thompson or Johnson. Right now, Matt Hill looks like that guy.
Jai Lucas: I'm not going to dogpile on Jai tonight, even though the team went through some rough stretches in the first half with him in the game. Despite his limitations, which were apparent even tonight, he had some nice sequences in the second half and didnt turn the ball over. But let's be honest here. Lucas's most important contribution tonight was that he allowed each of our other three guards to get some rest. And, for Lucas, that's good enough for me. This is especially true after watching Cory Joseph doing mountain-climbers outside the free throw line because he was cramping against Illinois. Like I said about Joseph, it would also really be nice if Lucas could get his outside shot to start falling, as he still hasnt made a 3-pointer during the entire season.
Free Throw Watch: Texas hit 15-19 free throws tonight. Huzzah!
Next Game: Saturday vs. Rice at 3 PM